Manager Lee Carsley was hesitant to overly laud England’s attacking full-backs when he spoke to EnglandFootball.org in the week. “Ultimately if you’re playing in defence, you need to be capable of dominating your opponent in and out of possession”, he said. That rang true more than he could have known as his England U21s beat Andorra 4-1 in a Euro qualifier at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium.
Leicester City’s Luke Thomas and Southampton’s Tino Livramento spent almost all of their time in the final third. It was that sort of match for full-backs; a chance to bomb on against the group minnows. But Livramento daudled on the ball too long in the second half, allowing Andorra to somewhat spoil an otherwise excellent night for the Young Lions. Albert Rosas dispossessed him and scored a stellar solo goal for Andorra. But by now England had done the hard work. Goals from Folarin Balogun, Jacob Ramsey and Morgan Gibbs-White had already ensured England were heading for another qualifying victory. Soon after, Anthony Gordon scored a peach to confirm that. The assister: Livramento, making amends with a deep, cultured cross.
England started their first match of the new year with quite breathtaking urgency. A number of blocked efforts in the opening few moments showed their early intent but soon didn’t matter when Harvey Elliott played in the overlapping Livramento to cross low for a Balogun goal. The Middlesbrough striker is on loan from Arsenal and converted with Premier League pedigree to put the Young Lions one up after six minutes.Embed from Getty Images
Noni Madueke, Gibbs-White, Balogun and Elliott were so in sync for a front four who had never played together before. And with the two attacking full-backs joining in whenever England came forward to create, the home side had more than enough firepower to add to Balogun’s opener. They did so on 34 minutes when Ramsey notched his first U21s goal by thundering home as a bouncing ball fell nicely for him on the edge of the box. Gareth Southgate has been tracking the Aston Villa midfielder for some time, with a view to bringing him into the seniors, and he showed why by belting the dropping ball into the corner. A cracker for 2–0.
At times the look on Gibbs-White’s face suggested he felt his opponents weren’t only Andorra but also the referee. A number of decisions seemed to go against the Sheffield United star, on loan from Wolves. But he had a goal to treasure for himself when he followed in Balogun’s blocked second-half effort to find the roof of the net. His first at this level made it three for England, before Rosas dispossessed a lax Livramento and sprinted on to convert for the minnows. England U21s have now conceded five goals in four games against the Andorrans at this level over the past few years. A truly embarrassing statistic.
Carsley agrees. He told EnglandFootball.org after the match: “I wanted them to play with more risk tonight. I didn’t think we played with enough risk in Andorra. With that risk, sometimes you’re going to find yourself out of position. So we were prone to the counterattack, and we’ve seen that with the goal. But it gives us something to work on. It gives us a reference point to be better. There’s a lot more to come from this group.”Embed from Getty Images
Carsley brought on Merseyside rivals Curtis Jones of Liverpool and Anthony Gordon of Everton for added impetus in the closing stages. Gordon scored twice in a crucial win over group leaders the Czech Republic at Turf Moor in November. He added another here, volleying home excellently as Livramento atoned for his earlier error by providing a deep cross for the assist.
England searched for five, six, seven, and the rest, but had to settle for four on a night of attacking brilliance and a single sour note. They face Albania next on Tuesday. If this was anything to go by, there could be more scintillating football to come.
Despite a good performance, the England manager wanted and expected even better. “I thought it was an OK performance”, Carsley told EnglandFootball.org. “I thought we played really well at times. We created a lot of chances. 4–1 maybe flatters [Andorra] a little bit.Embed from Getty Images
“I thought we could have scored more. That’s not being disrespectful to Andorra. We knew exactly what we were going to be up against, in terms of trying to beat that low block and trying to break them down which is very difficult. I was very pleased that we were able to break them down quite quickly, and got that goal. I’d just like us to be a bit more ruthless and maybe a bit more demanding of each other with that final pass or that through-ball because we’ve definitely got the quality to do that.
“We’ve got some very exciting players. There were some very good performances tonight. It’s great to see the players join up with England that are in form and carry that form on. I’m talking about Morgan and Jacob. Great to see Harvey complete 90 minutes; I thought that was brilliant for him — in flashes he was excellent and unplayable. I would have liked to see that performance capped with a goal.”